A short time trial
run as the opening stage
in a cycling stage race
, with the dual aim of presenting the riders to the public one at a time and establishing an initial general classification
(and hence being able to award leader's jerseys
before the first stage proper and give the relevant sponsors their money's worth) without having any significant influence on the final result.
Prologues are subject to a couple of special provisions:
- they must not exceed 8 km distance (otherwise they are treated be normal time trial stages of the race)
- they are ignored when calculating the average stage length for the race (which is subject to restrictions)
- a rider who fails to complete the prologue may continue in the race, being credited with the slowest time of any finisher. This is not a common occurrence.
The distance rules tends to be stretched a bit (the prologue for the 2001 Tour de France
is 200 metres over length). In general there is no time limit
within which riders must finish (although at least one rider was thrown out of the Tour in the 1970s for not taking the prologue seriously enough). It is traditional (but not obligatory) for the preceding year's classification winners to wear their winner's jerseys.
The nature of the event and the fact that winning it gives you a prestigious (and remunerative) day (or more) in the yellow jersey or its equivalent for a ten-minute effort means that prologue victories are strongly contested, although serious general classification contenders do not always want to wear out their teams defending an early race lead. On flat courses the winners are often specialist track pursuiters; where the first full stages are flat there is often also an incentive to the sprinters (who tend to treat time trials as gentle training rides) to try for a good time in hope of picking up the race lead subsequently by collecting time bonuses.